Bringing digital citizenship into the classroom

What does it mean to be a good citizen? At some point, every student will be asked to answer this question. This is because citizenship isn’t something we get to choose. As long as we are living, breathing members of society, we are citizens of that society.

With citizenship comes choice and responsibility. We have the ability to make certain choices for ourselves, but we also bear the responsibility for these choices, knowing that they could be consequential. To be a citizen is to recognize that our words and actions can impact others, and that we are not the only ones in the world who matter.

We are local citizens, of community, city and country, and also global citizens. Our actions in our communities, however seemingly isolated and insignificant, can impact the world. From who we vote for to which causes we fight for, all of this matters on the world stage. And since digital technology is primarily responsible for bringing people around the world together, it is increasingly more important to practice proper digital citizenship as well.

Schools, governments, entrepreneurs and academics are starting to see the significance of digital citizenship. Professors are now teaching courses about digital citizenship, and governments are publishing reports that relay the importance of digital citizenship. All of this is a step in the right direction, but we need to go further. Every K-12 teacher should make an effort to bring a digital citizenship curriculum into the classroom.

Bringing Digital Citizenship into the Classroom


What is Digital Citizenship? The New Civics

Digital citizenship is essentially the new civics for the 21st century. For many decades in K-12 schools throughout the world, students would learn about the philosophy and practice of civics. To be a citizen, we were taught, is to be able to function in a civil society in the three major realms: professional, personal and political.

What does this mean? Basically, that we must contribute to our communities through our careers, that we must communicate with our communities in our personal lives and that we must comprehend the politics of community life. A good citizen is respectful of the community, a bad citizen is not. Teachers should teach their students to be good citizens.

Since digital technology has transformed society, we must expand our conception of civic rights and responsibilities to the digital realm. Just as K-12 teachers taught basic civics to students, they must now incorporate digital citizenship into the discussion. As Don Orth and Edward Chen explain in their article “The Strategy for Digital Citizenship: Children in a Digital World,” “By focusing on digital citizenship, we acknowledge that our students’ online lives require the same attention and guidance as we give to their offline lives. Our aim is to empower students to make smart, responsible, and respectful decisions when using media. At the same time, we want to help them to understand the ethical consequences behind the decisions they make online.”

The most cost-effective way to bring digital citizenship into the classroom is for teachers to design a user-friendly digital classroom. LiveTiles Mosaic is a free “no code” solution for any K-12 classroom with an Office 365 tenant, and it enables teachers to easily promote digital citizenship. By integrating Office 365 apps like Sway and cloud-based services like Yammer, teachers can develop their students’ sense of civic responsibility in the digital realm at an early age. As the screen shot below shows, teachers can personalize the digital classroom to suit their students’ specific needs.

Bringing Digital Citizenship into the Classroom

Professional Growth and Opportunity

To succeed in today’s digital workplace, digital citizenship skills are a must. Most businesses use Microsoft products and increasingly take advantage of cloud-based technologies and applications in Office 365. It is the teacher’s responsibility to show students how to use these digital tools so that they can have successful careers.

There are a number of studies that demonstrate the correlation between digital skills and economic security. Those who know how to use mobile devices and navigate the Internet are more likely to be employed than those who do not. Many colleges, graduate schools and places of employment only accept online applications, and it’s almost impossible to know who’s hiring without internet access.

If teachers integrate digital technology into the classroom, their students will be well-equipped to participate and succeed in the digital workplace. Teachers can show students how to look for and apply to jobs online, how to create a resume in Microsoft Word, how to construct professional emails and how to network in the digital realm.

Interpersonal Communication

Another aspect of digital citizenship is how individuals interact with each other online in a non-professional setting. In this area, teachers can teach their students proper online etiquette. For the most part, this means that students should not engage in cyberbullying.  

To practice this, teachers can add the Yammer tile to Mosaic and show students how to appropriately interact in digital spaces. Teachers can monitor this activity to see if students need a more in-depth lesson on acceptable online discourse.

“Boys will be boys” and there is a difference between daily drama and dangerous bullying, but teachers have a responsibility to delineate these differences. Teachers should think of the Internet as the schoolyard for the 21st century. In the traditional classroom before the advent of digital technology, students regularly interacted in the schoolyard, and there were always daily dramas that would play out. Some of these dramas would get resolved and others wouldn’t. It was generally not the teacher’s place to intervene in these daily dramas. Part of maturity, after all, is learning how to deal with conflict, and what better way to teach this than force students to resolve conflicts on their own in the school yard?

Every now and then, however, the daily drama would escalate into something more sinister: bullying. One student would get physically assaulted by his or her fellow classmates. In these instances, teachers would intervene and the students responsible for the bullying would be disciplined.

The same concept should apply to online interactions. Teachers should let students feel free to share their ideas in the digital classroom. If students  engage in cyber-bullying, teachers can take immediate disciplinary action. At the same time, teachers should inform students about cyberbullying and its consequences so they know what is and isn’t acceptable. One way to do this is to assign them engaging TED Talks about cyberbullying and have students present the main points of the talks in class the next day. Only with practice will students learn proper online etiquette, and teachers should start teaching this as early as possible.

Political Participation

Perhaps the most important aspect of digital citizenship is political participation. One only has to look at recent historical events to see the role that digital technology can play in politics, for both good and bad.

This is a complex subject, of course, but it’s fair to say that a mastery of digital technology skills leads to a fuller participation in the political process. Whether it’s the ability to vote online or register to vote online, a good digital citizen will know how to do this. The teacher can train students to stay informed about the voting rules of their communities, and stress the importance of their particular votes.

But digital citizenship goes beyond voting. It’s also about the right to protest and speak truth to power. From the Arab Spring to Ai Weiwei to #BlackLivesMatter, there are countless examples of the impact that digital technology has on social justice causes. Without social media, it’s likely that the revolutions in the Arab world would never have taken place, that Weiwei would never have exposed the corruption of China’s communist regime and #BlackLivesMatter would never have brought as much national attention to police brutality in the United States.

For an assignment about the relationship between social media and political activism, teachers can ask students to take up a particular social justice cause and create an effective social media campaign around this cause. Students can create these campaigns in Sway.

At the same time, teachers can show students the ways individuals and groups use digital technology in more destructive ways. The terrorist organization ISIS, for example, recruits many of its members online, and has a well-oiled propaganda machine to dispense misleading information that manipulates vulnerable youths to join their cause. Teachers can remind students that digital technology can be used for many different political purposes, and the role of the digital citizen is to embrace peaceful methods and reject destructive methods. One assignment could be to have students go online and research various organizations that use the Internet for nefarious purposes, like international terrorist organizations like ISIS or national terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, and present an analysis of their social media tactics.

Finally, digital citizenship is about participating in the political process more directly, and digital technology helps facilitate this participation. Whether or not you agree with his views, there’s no denying that presidential candidate Bernie Sanders benefited immensely from a digital-savvy political campaign, in which he raised over $229 million online and spread his message through social media. By exposing students to digital technology in the classroom, they’ll be more prepared to run for political office, should they desire to pursue that career. For fun, teachers can have students run for class president and come up with clever ways to use digital technology in their campaigns.

Bringing Digital Citizenship into the Classroom


Whether we like it or not, we are all digital citizens. If we spend any of our time online, the concepts of digital citizenship apply to us. This means, among other things, knowing how to use digital technology to navigate the professional, personal and political realms of civil society. It is the teacher’s responsibility to guide students in the right direction so that they become good digital citizens. 

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